Willie Akel has been a pre-eminent media lawyer for more years than most lawyers have been in practice, but his face became most noticed in the representation his firm Simpson Grierson provided for Kim Dotcom. To be fair, he’s a figure that should have been in the inaugural Power List as a pre-eminent litigator and legal power player.
The likeable and astute Whakatane-born litigator has handled some of the most important media cases in recent years, many for TVNZ but also for private and public parties involved in media, defamation and related matters.
He fought for the ability to see Rainbow Warrior bombers Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur to be filmed in court, won the right for TVNZ to screen a police video of a man found not guilty of murder in 2009, has also secured the rights of media to search court records and various other important media freedom cases.
Colourful cases involving colourful characters including Sir Robert Jones, journalist Ian Wishart, cartoonist Tom Scott and of course Kim Dotcom have also marked his career.
He acted for Penthouse Magazine’s publisher who were wanting to have the magazine, which included such delights as group and lesbian sex, to be available within New Zealand.
The fight involved a hearing before the Indecent Publications Tribunal and strident opposition from both the Crown and well known decency campaigner Patricia Bartlett’s Society for the Promotion of Community Standards.
Among others, Willie Akel called cartoonist Tom Scott to give evident where he described Penthouse as “primarily a male masturbatory aid” which might be handed to men giving semen samples “rather than a copy of the New York Review of Books”.
The result was that the international edition of Penthouse could be sold in New Zealand to people over 18, provided it was sealed in a plastic wrapper.
It was one of numerous cases that have proven to be landmark decisions in New Zealand involving not just the high profile media law cases but in dispute resolution and private international law cases
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